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Critical Mass

Downtown LA Critical Mass

10:43 AM PDT on June 2, 2008

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on Los Angeles area Critical Mass rides.  The purpose of the series is to create a first hand ride guide for riders who are looking to join the CM movement to help them select the best rides for their skill and commitment levels.  Because the various rides are as different as the communities in which they take place, I felt the only way to get a feel for the rides was to actually do them.  The first article was on Pasadena Critical Mass.)

When your average person thinks of Critical Mass, they usually picture hundreds of colorfully dressed cyclists swarming the streets of a big city disrupting motor vehicle traffic.  That’s exactly what last Friday’s “Downtown Critical Mass” was...hundreds of cyclists claiming the road as their own, motorists be dammed.

Organizers estimated that nearly 200 riders showed up to Western and Wilshire between 6:30 and 7:30 ready to ride.  The first leg of the route snaked up Western Blvd. to Santa Monica Blvd., then over to Cahuenga and up to Sunset Blvd. before heading to downtown LA.  The ride featured stops at two pharmacies before swinging towards the downtown.  Once downtown, the group took a quick tour of Broadway and Union Station before coming to rest at the Chinatown Gold Line Station.  After a short break, some riders went back to Wilshire and Western while other Ridazz went off to the races.  Since I had to be up for the LACBC event on Saturday, I chose to head back home.

Because the ride was over 20 miles I wouldn’t recommend this ride for either beginners or children.  Ok, there’s plenty of other reasons not to bring along the kids, although I did see at least one group of riders who were clearly high school age.  Actually, the ride featured cyclists of all ages from 15 to their sixties.  Because there are plenty of lengthy stops, the ride probably would be doable for a beginner who is in good shape.

Despite Critical Mass being confrontational by design, most car drivers seemed supportive.  Trust me, when you’re on your bike, you know the difference between supportive and angry honks.  Sure, there were some drivers who weren’t happy to see us and honked, shouted or revved their engines at the corkers; but for the most part motorists didn’t seem to mind.  The ride passed at least a dozen cop cars and only one harassed us.  One of the ride leaders did get a ticket and a rather rude and forceful pat down for corking, but other than that there were no issues with the police.

Unfortunately, I missed the incident with the police, although I’m told it was the same officer who helpfully shouted through his megaphone that “red means stop” at passing riders.  Thus I wasn’t able to get any news on whether the LAPD is going to prosecute the driver that slammed into Randy Cruz and tried to hide in a parking a couple of weeks ago.

(Edit: After re-reading this, I'm worried that the text downplays what an egregious violation the search of this group leader was.  I was trying to show that there was only one incident with the police, not many like there are at these rides in New York.  For a first hand account of the search, visit the Midnight Ridazz forum.)

As for my feelings on the ride, there is something special and unique about riding in a giant group such as we had on Friday.  Several times I found myself caught up in the thrill of the ride, shouting with the rest of the group or whistling my way through an intersection.  With the exception of the one incident with the police, the city actually felt like it was a biker’s paradise as I sped around the city or as watched one of the impromptu discos that popped up in various parking lots during breaks.

Of course, about two blocks after I left Wilshire and Western for my trip home, an SUV came up on me fast enough that I had to veer left into the middle lane while he sped past seemingly unaware that there was anyone ahead of him.  I guess despite my yellow t-shirt and two back flashing lights I was invisible to the hopefully inebriated driver.

Sometimes in LA, it doesn’t take long for Car Culture to strike back, just when you’re feeling your most free.

Here are some pictures from the event:

Photos: Damien Newton 

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